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Cooking the geography of distance.

Bats are flapping their long lovely wings on the horizon line what does he care?

Mother would know, call her & she ranges wide over thousands of topics, all except the main one. Say Mom I'm thinking of divorce, then I'll slap the kid in an orphanage, what do you think? Night's coming fast through the window, you can picture her tapping a perfect fingernail, a slick parade of taps like a waterfall --

In a pinch he's the right guy, can shovel you full of words in a pinch, then snacks. In a pinch makes enough money, pays the insurance, only a spoiled unlovely girl would complain. Now he's wearing an old Batman cape, a string of pearls, what a moustache! says everyone but you're begging him to shave. It's not the beard burn but what it does to my eyes. Also why should you get to disguise yourself --

That's it, says Mom, jealousy in a nutshell! I eat brownie mix raw from the bowl as we speak, it gives perspective, but oh my heart is full of pins. I say have some fucking pity but he says you're the wrong gal, I knew it then & now I'm finally coming, as if from a long drawn out faint, to. I'm up & around again (he says) my head for once set solid & now I see the light --

I dream this guy stands on a ladder & says to me bitch cut it out --

Mom says if it's not one guy it's another, think of them as interchangeable scrabble squares, a's and b's, if you get a q well then we'll cross that bridge later on, otherwise stay put, wait for the moon to cross the black window: you'll notice a white dot or two, that's the sign we want --

In an overcoat, fists in pockets he wants me to stop or go. This is a game, mother's right. The kid sits like a statue (how do you make people come to?) I feel this catch under the ribcage, call it a feeling. The kid & her sad glasses, a sad progeny. He strews briefcase contents across the rug & the kid rummages to find clippings. Any old news story, what's the point --

First things first. Ma, you tell her stop dreaming, get that head back on go, let's figure this thing out, my life's about to split open at the lips. But he's hovering again. Opens the fridge grabs tomatoes sprouts the mayo. Now what? says Mom who hears commotion, doors knocking, the bisected refrigerator hum, always did have a fine-tuned ear for machinery. I don't want a divorce, he says, but what good does that do if he can come & go as he pleases, gets to sleep with that girl Pat. Pat who? says Mom. All tits & no brain, I wish I could say, but in truth she's a peach, round & compassionate, a dewy accommodating tulip, too much competition for one wife, I say. I know what you mean, says Ma who on the other end has begun to pare her nails, you can hear the zz zz of the file as it slides over each precipitous archway --

Life is a cathedral, she says, whether it's Gothic or impressionistic, well that's just up to that great cacophoner in the sky. Shit, I say. Pat's at the door now & the kid's actually smiling, though it's politeness, & he's all nervous in the Batman cape. You hear Pat's tinkly little laugh like Spiderwoman's. Now I drive the suffocation blues through the phone wires on little psychic electrodes which sooner or later Ma's hip to --

Do I have to feed this woman, give her a dress? These days generosity knows no bounds, it's the feminists, you can't wear underwear, you can't clean a room without feeling like Miss Priss. Mother agrees, though of course with a giant disclaimer that cancels out the whole thing: You can't be up in the world without shooting yourself through a vein or two, she says. In the background he's already dishing up the property. I'll take the kid! he yells. You can see Pat's shiny tulip peach face wither at that. & the kid looks down, pushes her glasses up, a pathetic gesture. Do I know what comes next? no sir --

Think of Hamlet, Lear, (Mother likes this kind of supporting argument) think of poor Richard whichever one he was, all those tragedies, now's your turn. Oh Mama, I say, I haven't the musculature, I haven't the volume for all this, but he in the background laughs because he knows my severe strength. & the kid is looking over, now a tear seems to form in one eye corner but it's probably just light --

Reading a book which this time is a murder mystery, that smallish head, a single rouge spot grazing the surface shine. A murder mystery. Good for her, says Mom, murder is syntagmatic also symmetrical, today of all days let her read. & as for you Angela my sweet, what can I say? Zz zz, those nails, you can imagine them revving to sharp points the better to stick you with --

I dream a man locks me in a room & says ok cunt --

But the man of my dreams, see he's picking up his grey valise, he's taking one half the bookshelf, three chairs from the dining room set & that girl Pat with her yellow Corvair & they're driving off leaving me & the kid in the dust with no guy around to sob into, no candy or cigarette money. Jesus, says Mom, nowadays women should know better, what have I raised here a trollop? Go get yourself some meaningful work like in the planetarium which is fun because you'll learn something, the names of constellations which brings good luck for a while, then of course it like everything else wears out --

But the kid is sighing, I say the kid is sad, her glasses fall down. She doesn't have the will to enact her usual self, she throws homework in the trash, ugly-like. Do you think I should be vengeful or just cave in like an empty eggshell, that's the bits & pieces sensation of it --

Behind him a triangle of bluish light like a cartoon. For a minute I think it's all a joke, a textual torment, & Pat too a mere actual tulip woman, her peachy cheeks, her shiny impeccableness. She too for a moment looks like a Dick Tracy moll. Don't use that word, says Mom, think about it in this day & age, everyone's got rights, even the other woman peachy as she may be, gorgeous & noncompensatory as she might seem, don't say moll for the connotation it has of squeezing the life out of someone without their consent --

Look, I Angela say, either life makes you beautiful or not. Either the dice fall your way or off the table. Everyone, including me, has rights, Mother. & now I want things in their separate compartments, husband at the workplace then at the dinner table, preferably on the big chair with the rewoven seat, then the girl to my left eating happily telling a story about her day while we parents look fondly on, what's wrong with that? Then bedtime we all fall in, the moon casts its steady eyebeam on the covers, what's wrong with that --

In my dream the man has a cold heart-piercing beauty --

The heavenly overriding subject of my pain: He leaves with Pat who by the way carries a circular red leather purse, a sprig of rosemary to ward off bad vibes. Give me a break! By the time it reaches your ankles, this new coat you knew you'd have to wear sooner or later, not being glamorous enough to keep history from drifting off course, you see your own kid in the corner staring uncannily as if she's spotted a ghost in the wings. But say it's only bats, just bats flapping like omens & Mom at the other end, always at the other end of this life you've crept into. Trailing behind now like a bridal train, she is disconsolate, nails pared, polished & ticking away the jumpy brain waves. Zapping a few in your direction, bless her. Oh you want to do whatever's noble & she says you're an idealist, a kind of female spoiler, a variety of seabug, get with it, buy more high heels, get an organ or two carved out before life passes you by the way a bus passes a condemned municipal building or a gum wrapper --

What advice. I feel my heart pounding, even the kid looks up from her murder, eyes bright as microdots behind the sloshed glasses. Now I'll grieve: how handsome today, then tomorrow who knows? He'd look stick thin or pudgy, the mind life gives you is so contrary, isn't that so Mother? & she agrees at last, I hear her hot breath sizzling in the wires, cooking the geography of distance between us --
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Brennan, Karen
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Jun 22, 1988
Previous Article:A letter to Paul Carroll, who said that I must become a Catholic so that I can pray for him.
Next Article:Embarking for Cythera.

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